Controversy is again erupting in the province of Alberta, Canada, over Catholic schools’ handling of LGBT and other gender/sexuality issues, highlighting anew church officials’ choice about whether Catholic education in the province is going to prioritize students’ well-being or anti-LGBT ideology.
Provincial Education Minister David Eggen sharply criticized a proposal for an alternate curriculum by which Catholic schools want to use to address gender and sexuality issues with students. Drafted by the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta, the proposal said that while there is much overlap in curricular content with the government’s curriculum, certain “key messages” about Catholic teaching on these issues would be in conflict with government standards. CBC reported:
“[The document] emphasizes that Catholic schools are committed to having caring, safe environments and ‘people who experience same-sex attraction are very welcome in our Church, equally respected and [loved].’
“But the document also identifies several potential ‘problematic’ areas where the curriculum could clash against church doctrine.
“‘We would be unable to teach any outcome requiring the promotion of homosexual relationships and/or lifestyles that are contrary to Church teaching,’ it says. ‘If the curriculum stipulates that we have to teach about ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’ as disassociated from biological sex, then that would be problematic.'”
Eggen said the document was “unacceptable,” adding further:
“‘We approach all conversations about how to improve our curriculum in good faith, but this submission was never given serious consideration and no funding was provided in response. . .I’m deeply concerned to see it suggested that providing Alberta students with accurate information on these important topics is ‘problematic’ or that there’s something wrong with being gay. . .I can assure Albertans that, under our government, any curriculum changes will be inclusive of all students — no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.'”
Other people have expressed similar concern. Monica Gugliotta, a bisexual teenager who left Catholic education over restrictive LGBTQ policies, said that while schools have a right to teach church doctrine, “there will be discrimination against the LGBTQ community” if that happens. Parent Kristin Heimbecker said “it’s extremely important that we have sexual health classes that are based in fact and real-life knowledge.”
The Catholic Council’s proposal was initially for a $66,005 grant to help develop “a parallel human sexuality curriculum that reflects many common outcomes embedded in our Catholic faith,” reported the Edmonton Journal. The newsa report explained:
“The superintendents wanted a group of about 10 educators to write a new sex-ed curriculum in the winter and spring of 2017, then have it reviewed by religious educators, a teacher focus group, and Alberta bishops and clergy.
“On March 1, 2017, education department deputy minister Curtis Clark denied the application, saying the government doesn’t pay for religious curriculum or resources.
“The project is still going ahead, [Council President Karl] Germann said, using personnel and resources from Catholic school districts across Alberta. They should have a draft curriculum to submit to the education ministry for approval in three weeks, he said.”
This alternative curriculum is just the latest dispute surrounding Catholic education in Alberta. Disputes about implementing policies supportive of LGBTQ students in Alberta have been ongoing for some three years now. All 61 districts in the province submitted draft policies in March 2016, but preceding these submissions there were tense debates in several Catholic systems.The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s 2015 actions on a transgender policy saw meetings erupt into a “shouting match” as the Board approved a draft policy allowing “just discrimination” of some youth. Outside mediation was eventually necessary for that School Board. A 2016 study found Catholic schools in Alberta to be fairly unsupportive and even failing the needs of LGBTQ students.
In other incidents, a now-retired Alberta bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.” Students have been asked to remove rainbow decorations which had been posted to celebrate pride. In another instance, a student was asked remove a rainbow flag he wore during a school ceremony. Former church worker Jan Buterman battled unsuccessfully for eight years after he was fired for transitioning in 2009.
Catholic officials’ proposal for an alternative gender and sexuality curriculum is not without warrant. Indeed, people often choose church-affiliated schools because they want students formed within the Catholic faith and imbued with its values. Charity programs connected with teaching about caring for the needs of the poor and marginalized are a prime example of the holistic formation that happens when Catholic education is at its best. Likewise, Catholic education has something to teach students about gender and sexuality beyond state-sponsored curricula. That difference however is not rooted in condemnations of homosexuality and pseudo-science, but in the church’s teachings on justice, healthy relationships, and the dignity of every human person.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2017